Archive for March 1st, 2009
The Onion takes an in-depth look at an important issue that the mainstream media won’t touch: whether modern video games are preparing our children for the horrors of the Apocalypse. I dedicate this post to Dr. Larry Bates, who claims to be working in earnest to prepare us for those Final Days:
In other news at The Onion, a drug company has just released a new depressant drug for people who are annoyingly cheerful.
“True compassion is not just an emotional response but a firm commitment founded on reason.” – HH, the Dalai Lama
Think of people as a cross between ants and marbles constantly moving in somewhat random patterns. A mass of movement, whirring about, jostling for position and direction going about our business of motion. Sometimes we bump into each other and those bumps impact direction and velocity. When we bump, it is a function of being in the right place at the right time to have whatever impact we do. We go about our days, bumping into other marbles in the checkout line, while making lane changes, and while making a living. Many contacts happen without us being aware of them, without thinking. People often have tunnel vision and are focused only on our own paths. The reality is, though, that the opportunity for real connection is always there, we simply must expect it from ourselves. Even amidst seemingly random patterns we can choose to forge bonds with each other, but we must be committed to seeing other people with compassion.
One day I was on my way to the grocery store to pick up a prescription. It was a gray, blustery day. Traffic in the parking lot was horrible, and I could see an even more frustrating backup while a car inexplicably sat in the way of any traffic in any direction. I hate that. I was not in the best of moods that day, and after I waited five long minutes I got out of my car and walked to the head of the line, which was now edging out into the street. I gestured at the driver and at that moment a man walked out of the store and headed over to the waiting car. He asked me what my problem was, and I said that I was going to ask her to move the car so the traffic could pass. I was on my best behavior, I was professional, pleasant, not at all nasty. I really didn’t expect the vitriol that spewed from his mouth at me. I can’t remember the details but I remember my reaction. Instead of flinching back I took a step forward, straightened my posture, stuck out my chin, and said his attack was unnecessary. He then said, “What are you going to do, hit me? You big dyke.” Bizarre. I am anything but big. I am a little thing, even if I am strong, and I don’t necessarily transmit dykeness, at least that is what folks tell me. I was really taken aback . . .
I’ve often wondered why women in wealthy societies have fewer children. Melanie Moses (who teaches Computer Science at the University of New Mexico) offers a solution in an article entitled, “Being Human: Engineering: Worldwide Ebb,” appearing in the 2/5/09 edition of Nature (available online only to subscribers). This phenomenon is counter-intuitive because evolution by natural selection would seemingly predict that human animals with more resources would have more babies. Moses employs the Metabolic Theory of Ecology (MTE), an approach for understanding the dynamics of flow through networks. It was developed
to explain why so many characteristics of plants and animals systematically depend on their mass in a very peculiar way. . . According to the theory, the larger the animal, the longer its cardiovascular system (its network of arteries and capillaries) takes to deliver resources to its cells. That delivery time, which in turn dictates the animal’s metabolic rate, is proportional to the animal’s mass raised to the power of ¼. Thus, because its circulatory system works less efficiently, an elephant grows systematically more slowly than a mouse, with a slower heart rate, a lower reproductive rate and a longer lifespan.
Moses argues that this idea that networks become predictably less efficient as they grow has “profound” consequences. With regard to fertility, she starts with facts regarding our energy consumption.
The average human uses up only about 100 watts from eating food, consistent with predictions based on body size. But in North America, each person uses an additional 10,000 watts from oil, gas, coal and a smattering of renewable sources, all of which are delivered through expansive, expensive infrastructure networks.
How do energy networks interact with the reproductive choices of humans?
The decline in human birth rates with increased energy consumption is quantitatively identical to the decline in fertility rate with increased metabolism in other mammals. Put another way, North Americans consume energy at a rate sufficient to sustain a 30,000-kilogram primate, and have offspring at the very slow rate predicted for a beast of this size . . . As infrastructure grows we get more out of it, but must invest more into it, reducing the energy and capital left to invest in the next generation.
Moses disagrees with alternative explanations, such as availability of birth control or decisions to marry later, because these don’t explain decisions to have fewer children in the first place. She also dismisses the idea that “as societies become wealthier, greater educational investments are made in each child to make them competitive in labour markets” because investments in eduction correlate inversely with fertility rates.
In a recent article appearing in Nature, “More Than Skin Deep,” Martin Kemp asks what we are to think of Andrew Krasnow’s work of art entitled “Flag from Flag Poll.” The artwork is a 2 meter long American Flag made out of human skin.
Consider, also, the online exhibit entitled “Making Visible Embryos,” by Tatjana Buklijas and Nick Hopwood. In Nature, Alison Abbott describes the exhibit as “the story of how embryos have been depicted.”
Outside the Science Center: evangelists galore! A tall red banner emblazoned with a cross speaks of human rights violations. According to the banner it is illegal in 52 countries to do what this man in black does. He shouts: “JESUS IS THE ONLY WAY! Going to church won’t save you! Doing good works won’t save you! YOU MUST ACCEPT JESUS!”
It’s hard to hear over the mariachi band, a long-haired waif playing kindergarten ditties on his guitar and another woman calling out to passersby behind a table covered in brochures. I stroll past a circle of teenagers dressed all in black, waving their arms and stepping in time to Radiohead.
This grimacing bevy of stricken blackbirds has drawn a crowd. They’ve obviously choreographed their wordless skit. But what is it that they’re getting all worked up about?
Are they Jesus People, too? “That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out,” mutters a sun-browned, wrinkly man in banana-yellow bike shorts. “They’re wearing the same T-shirts.” I nod and start to speak, but Bike Shorts has already pedaled off on his mountain bike, taking his quizzical mug and silent opinions with him. It’s probably for the best. I don’t like discussing religion with complete strangers anyway.
Across the lawn, a fortune teller gesticulates at a client across a round table decorated with a crystal ball and the customary jewel-toned tablecloth. A rapt young woman nods back earnestly. How much did she pay the ball-reader, I wonder. I hesitate to whip out my camera because the fortune teller is watching me watch her.
I’m an agnostic, but I can’t help thinking that all anybody here wants on this gorgeous day is some relief from anxiety, uncertainty and doubt. We want to hear that if we studiously follow the prescribed cure, jump through hoops and submit ourselves humbly to a wiser being, no matter how silly the prescriptions may seem, things will be okay.
I know the feeling well. I came to the park for comfort, too. I found some in this: